For the past four years the Butler Bulldogs (33-5, 18-0 Horizon League) have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Bulldogs dominated their league in the regular season and also in the league tournament, winning both. At the Big Dance, they did something amazing; they ran the through the entire tourney to the title game.
Along the way, they beat five teams, including Syracuse 63-59, Kansas State 63-56 and Michigan State 52-50. They lost to Duke in the title game 61-59. It was quite a ride for a team that many expected to be out of contention by round two. This season, the Bulldogs will again be a formidable foe. They should once again dominate the Horizon League and earn another berth in March Madness.
Two swingman are gone from last season’s team—guard/forward Gordon Hayward (15.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and guard/forward Willie Veasley (9.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg). Hayward entered the NBA Draft and was chosen ninth overall by the Jazz. Despite the loss, this is a team that has some solid returning experience and fine talent.
The primary player in the frontcourt is senior Matt Howard (6-8, 230 lbs., SR, #54, 11.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.8 apg, 25.2 mpg, .481 FG, .273 3PT, .784 FT). Howard, who is a former Horizon League Player of the Year, is a three-year starter who last season saw his numbers drop as he ran into foul trouble fairly consistently. As the season continued, he did become more proficient in defense and less foul prone. It’s expected that this season, he’ll have a big year. By the way, the big banger was also very good at drawing fouls, averaging 6.9 per 40 minutes (27th) and generating a free throw rate of .847 (15th). Plus, he didn’t waste his frees as he made 78.4% of his attempts.
Sophomore center Andrew Smith (6-11, 239 lbs., SO, #44, 1.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.0 apg, mpg, .364 FG, .000 3PT, .500 FT) may be ready to step up. He played big in the Elite Eight win over Kansas. If he can find consistency, the big man could be one the other starter in Butler’s frontcourt. But if he’s not ready, there are some incoming players who may be able to do the job.
Erik Fromm, a 6-9, 220-pound forward, comes to the Bulldogs with a reputation for being able to bang, score inside and gather in rebounds. He possesses a solid skill set and a body that gives him good range.
Another freshman player, Khyle Marshall, is also said to have starting potential from the get-go. The athletic Marshall is a 6-7 forward who is an able dribbler and solid ball handler who can score and rebound.
In any case, it’s expected that Howard will be the shoe-in and the other three will vie for one open spot since Butler plays with three in the backcourt. There’s enough talent on the roster that the team is bound to find the right mix. Howard’s experience will be the glue that holds the paint and post together.
The backcourt has a bit more certainty as junior Shelvin Mack (6-3, 215 lbs., JR, #1, 14.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 30.9 mpg, .454 FG, .391 3PT, .734 FT) returns. Mack can shoot and hit from outside, slash to the basket or find an open teammate with a pass. He’s a solid player and workhorse who is capable of scoring 20 just about anytime. Last season, he was chosen for the All-West Regional and All-Final Four teams. He shot 50% or better from the three-point arc in five of six NCAA Tournament games.
Joining him will be a tough defender—Ronald Nored (6-0, 174 lbs., JR, #5, 6.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.6 apg, 30.0 mpg, .407 FG, .196 3PT, .623 FT). Nored is relentless on defense and can get the ball in the right hands on offense. Last season, he stole 67 balls, averaging 3.6 per game, which was 76th nationally. Although he missed summer workouts due to surgery, he’s expected to be 100% for 2010-2011.
The third guard may or may not be Shawn Vanzant (6-0, 172 lbs., SR, #2, 2.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 14.6 mpg, . 329 FG, .304 3PT, .725 FT). Vanzant brings enough versatility to play either wing or point, making him extremely useful with three in the backcourt.
Coming off the bench will be two of the three players being considered for the second frontcourt starting spot and Garrett Butcher (6-7, 209 lbs., JR, #32, 0.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.2 apg, 5.6 mpg, .194 FG, .111 3PT, .333 FT). Butcher, who is dealing with injured knees, will serve primarily on defense.
In the backcourt, Zazh Hahn (6-1, 176 lbs., SR, #3, 4.9 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.6 apg, 15.5 mpg, .434 FG, .414 3PT, .929 FT), a senior, will come in to shoot threes and athletic freshman Chrishawn Hopkins will contribute minutes from the first day. He can dunk the ball or hit from beyond the arc. The kid is a dynamic player who should excel in college ball.
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The first thing to talk about when you discuss the Bulldogs is their defense. It’s true that their offense was very good but their defense was amazing. Touting an efficiency mark of 82.2, they were ranked fifth in the nation. Their steal rate was 10.9% (78th) and opponents hit just 31.7% (60th) of their threes. Although they did not have a high blocked shot rate—6.5% (288th)—they harassed offenses enough to throw them off. For some reason, the opponent free throw rate was low too—67.9% (111th).
While opponents were connecting on 46.1% (108th) of their two-point shots, Butler was hitting 50.9% (60th) of their field goals. They were excellent foul shooters, converting 73.8%, which ranked them 32nd in the nation. They certainly took advantage of their accuracy as the Bulldogs generated 25.3% of their points from the charity stripe, placing them 14th nationally in that category. The one area they really need to improve in is three-point attempts. They were good from downtown just 34.2% (172nd) of the time.
With the amazing work he has done at Butler and the team’s run in the NCAA Tournament last year, head coach Brad Stevens (89-15 in three years at Butler and overall) could have headed to another school for a lucrative salary. But instead, he signed a 12-year extension with the Bulldogs. Citing the fact that he likes where he is and that he loves working with the quality people at Butler, Stevens decided that he was indeed in it for the long run with the first college team he has ever coached. He’s certainly in a good place in terms of the quality of players with which he will work in the upcoming season.
The Butler Bulldogs have another opportunity to impress the nation. They’ve got some major schools on the schedule, including Louisville, Duke and Xavier. A win or two amongst those schools and Butler could certainly shakeup the top 25. With a solid backcourt, depth in front and a coach who has posted two 30-win seasons in three years, this is a team that will dominate the Horizon League and should not be taken lightly by nonconference teams. Just ask coach K and Duke. The Butler Bulldogs start the college season ranked 19th and are expected to win their league championship and for a fifth straight year go to the Big Dance. How deep will they go? Most say two and out. But don’t forget what happened last year.
Maddux Sports road Butler a number of times last year in route to another profitable season with our expert college basketball picks. 2010-11 season should be more of the same with wallet stuffing winners left and right. Dont miss any of our experts advice this year!